Microsoft Flip-Flops on Vista Virtualization

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2007-06-20 Print this article Print

Microsoft will stick by its earlier decision not to allow customers to install cheaper versions of Windows Vista on virtualized machines.

Microsoft's Windows Vista team is eating crow after flip-flopping on its on-again, off-again decision to allow cheaper versions of Vista to be used in virtualized machines.

The company was all set to announce June 20 that the lower-cost Vista Home Basic ($199) and Vista Home Premium ($249) versions could be used in virtual machines, and that it had lifted its prohibition on the use of information rights management, digital rights management and its BitLocker data encryption service in a virtual machine.

In fact, a spokesperson for the Vista team went as far as to tell eWEEK in a prebriefing earlier this week that greater awareness of the potential security issues around virtualization and customer pressure on the company to offer greater choice were the primary motivators for the decision to allow the virtualization of all Vista SKUs.

Things had changed over the past six months, he said, as there was now an increasing awareness of the security issues associated with hardware virtualization and OEMs were shipping machines with hardware virtualization turned off to decrease the attack surface for the vast majority of customers who did not currently use virtualization.

Some 40 million copies of Vista were sold in the first 100 days following its release. Click here to read more.

"We are also responding to virtualization enthusiast, partner, press and analyst feedback. We still believe that security is an issue, just as we did before, but the feedback we received was that end users should be able to make educated choices on security rather than Microsoft making those choices for them via the End User License Agreement [EULA]," the spokesperson said.

But then something happened that resulted in a 360-degree turnaround in Microsoft's position, with a company spokesperson telling eWEEK late on June 19 that "Microsoft has reassessed the Windows virtualization policy and decided that we will maintain the original policy announced last fall."

That means that only the high-end Business ($299) and Ultimate ($399) versions of Vista will continue to be enabled for virtualization—which essentially lets a single machine run multiple operating systems, creating greater flexibility, efficiency and utilization.

When Microsoft announced its decision last fall, it said that it believed this was "the best balance" between customer choice and security given that security risks exist in virtualized environments, where hardware virtualization technology could be exploitable by malware.

VMware's latest virtualization software supports Vista. Click here to read more.

"Helping protect machines in this scenario requires some deep technical know-how and, therefore, is something that IT pros and advanced enthusiasts are likely better equipped to manage than general consumers," the company said at that time. "As a result, we initially only enabled the Business and Ultimate SKUs and not Home Basic and Home Premium."

Among those critical of the current decision is Ben Rudolph, the director of corporate communications at Parallel, an SWsoft company, who has noted in a blog post that this strategy could hold back those users who embrace cutting-edge technologies such as virtualization.

"This means they won't upgrade to Vista and that Microsoft has effectively lost an upgrade customer in the case of Windows PCs, or an entirely new customer with Mac and Linux users," he said.

Also, now that Apple Macs use the same Intel chips as Windows-based PCs, Mac customers can use virtualization to move between the Mac OS X operating system and Windows.

Read more here about why Microsoft changed Vista's licensing to cover new deployment models.

This effectively shuts the door to Vista on an entire market of Mac users who would never normally use Windows, and it also makes it more difficult for enterprises around the globe to upgrade to Vista, he said.

But perhaps those numbers are simply not compelling enough for Microsoft, a possibility suggested by the Vista spokesperson, who told eWEEK before the reversal that "consumer virtualization remains a niche business opportunity relative to the broader Windows customer base."

Check out eWEEK.com's for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis.

Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at www.eweek.com.


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